I wanted a Betsy Wetsy. I got an ugly doll named Nancy that I loved and hated as much as I loved and hated myself. I dressed her and learned to dress myself, always forgetting some key element of clothing, because my head was not in that practical space yet. I was busy wondering and wandering the world. Who could remember socks when Santa could pop in for a visit any moment, if he were real? The head only held space for so many thoughts and mine was already filled with important matters. The moon, was it really following me? It seemed suspicious, the way it trailed the car at night, always visible outside my window, no matter how hard my father pressed the pedal to the metal. Even his big stogies didn't scare off that moon or the occasional stray mosquito of a summer night.
Nancy stayed in the closet in the cockpit of my airplane. I also had Amelia Earhart in me, that lost adventurer of the skies. I put on my winter hat, pretending it was a leather pilot helmet and flew with Nancy, that ingenue by my side.
Nancy was not a Betsy Wetsy, though I did soak her frilly panties to make it look as if she wet herself. Then I'd make her sit in the corner, “horrid girl.” I sheared off all her blond hair. I beat her and kissed her. I held her close at night sometimes, frightened by my own desperate need to love and be loved.
Sometimes I still think of Nancy, thrown out when I grew older, when I preferred dolls with plastic pointy boobs. I feel guilt about the way I treated that extension of myself, unworthy of love. It was power over something, a plastic thing with no soul – but still a part of me lived in that dented and dirty doll.
I watch my four-year-old daughter chastise and adore her dolls, her mood variable as fickle weather. Although I long to protect the plastic babies, because in them I see shades of the real, I let her beat and love them as I did. She can control something smaller that will never countermand or leave her. There is a safety in these effigies for girls. There is valuable learning in the play she enacts each day.
I think of Nancy whenever I read The Velveteen Rabbit. An essence of us sneaks into our most valued objects. A few years back, I wandered into an antique shop in Colorado. My daughter was inside me then, my son the age she is now. I peered into a worn satin mourning bonnet from the mid nineteenth century, wondering how many times the poor woman had to wear the bonnet in heat and snow. I thought I heard a cackle, that jovial, almost acceptance of life, death and everything in between.